Ink, Yarn & Beer

my life a bit at a time

Yarns of the City – 27 June 2009

June 28, 2009
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Anacapa Fine Yarns

This weekend Anacapa Fine Yarns celebrates its 5th birthday.  And what a party it is!  On Saturday, Judy (my MIL) and I wandered over, planning on some damage occurring to the budgets.  We got in a bit later than the 10:00 a.m. opening – not much later, just 30 minutes – and the place was packed!

Lois started this store after working in a large accounting firm for years, and the years of “taking care of the books” certainly showed in her foresight.  Anacapa has been able to grow with the business. Lois is a cheerful, friendly person – sunny and funny – and greets many of her customers by name.

The store has a lot of floor space, natural light, good artificial light, and cosy feel.  In the front is most of the yarn, with plenty of room for new shipments, books, buttons, needles and notions. There are knitting bags, bits of fluffy wool for spinners, and yarns for all budgets and tastes. In the far corner are the books, with a small, circular table where you can sit, knit, chat, and look at patterns.  In the back is an even larger room, for classes, and more yarn (what else?).  Lois has had trunk shows, authors, teachers, as well as monthly and on-going classes.

As the years have gone by, more yarn has come in, wonderful employees, and a group of friendly fans make this a great place for knitters to congregate.  Customer service is always available, and I have never had a bad moment here – until I look at all the woolly seduction!  Then – well – you know how that is!  Choices!  And some – just some – self-control!!

And the sale? Well, you can see how crowded it was. The line was verrrry long! Judy and I each got sock yarn. Judy got some grey-green-blue Koigu, and I got some ocean-blue-green. Judy also got a lovely sock yarn that was creamy with other colors dispersed through it. I also picked up a nice ball of manly Tofutsies for the esposo, and some – finally! – Mini Mochi in greens.

Anacapa is a gem of a yarn store, and if you are up in Ventura, California, don’t forget to visit.  They are open 6 days a week – closed on Monday.  The newsletter is published regularly – take a look and see what’s happening and who is showing up.

Happy 5th, Anacapa!

A Foray into Toe-Up Socks, v

June 27, 2009
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This past week I really have not done much of anything except munge around.  The highlights of the week have been watching the very funny Betty la Fea – in English, and the American version – on DVDs from Netflix.  What is there not to enjoy?

The second of the toe-up socks have been progressing over the past week.  I’ve turned the heel using the Fleegle Heel, which is the reverse of a top-down sock gusset, but without the need to pick up stitches along the heel flap.   The body of the sock measured 7 inches when I started the heel.  Most toe-up recipes with gussets say to begin it 2 to 2.5 inches before the total length.  I make my socks 9 inches long, so 6.5 to 7 inches would be fine – in theory!

Having turned the heel, before trying it on, just an eyeball of the sock told me that 7 inches was too long of a sock length.  It should have begun at 6.5 inches, or maybe even 6.  Another element of the heel was its angle, especially when compared to the short-row heel of the first sock.  Additionally, I usually turn my sock heel on about a third of the total stitches, not the traditional one half.  My gusset is a lot shorter as a result, and I am pleased with the way my top-down socks fit.

Still, the fit of this second sock, is not bad.  The problem, in my opinion, is the tediousness of turning the heel.  It was a lot easier to do, in some ways, than the short-row heel, but that is because the construction of the heel is one with which I am familiar.  The heel flap construction of a top-down sock requires picking up stitches, but the Fleegle heel does not, so the overall product is a bit tidier, though longer in doing.  

I may attempt to do this heel, if I do another toe-up pair of socks, on fewer stitches. It will be interesting to note at what point along the foot to begin a Fleegle heel with fewer stitches – I think the length of the sock may need to be a bit longer than when you use half of the total sock stitches. I also think I saw a reference to a Dutch heel for toe-up socks, which is not as fitted as this particular heel. Hmmm.

This second sock of this pair is made with only 54 stitches, not 60.  The reason is that I don’t really think that 60 is good for the lace pattern here.  The lace is stretchy, and doesn’t stretch out on my foot or leg.  I’d make that for a large leg, and use 42-48 for a young girl or small woman.

Here, you can see the difference between the two socks, especially at the heel. The short-row heel sock is a bit too short, and the Fleegle heel sock is a bit too long. Still, I have no plans of ripping out either sock, and will wear them as a pair!

My inclination is to go with a Fleegle heel as preferred method, but use maybe a third of the stitches, instead of half. Also, fewer stitches for this lace pattern. The fact that knitting is stretchy allows for errors like this, and I can wear them before I decide I don’t like toe-up socks. Right now, I’m just now sure I like making them….

The Four Treasures: Inkstone / Suzuri, iii

June 22, 2009
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Akama Inkstones

The website www.kougei.or.jp is particularly informative about various trades and crafts in Japan.  This is what they have to say about the Akama suzuri:

Records exist showing that an Akama inkstone was offered at the Tsuruoka Hachimangu Shrine in Kamakura at the beginning of the Kamakura period (1185-1333). By the middle of the Edo period (1600-1868) these inkstones were being sold up and down the country. By the time that Mori was leading the local clan, unauthorized people were prohibited from mining the stone from which these inkstones were made and should one be needed as a gift at such times at the Sankin Kotai, when feudal lords travelled to live in Edo, permission to mine the stone had to be given by the head of the clan. This made it quite difficult to obtain one of these much prized inkstones from the Choshu clan.

Akama inkstones possess all the right qualities of a good inkstone. The stone is hard and it has a close grain. It is beautifully patterned and is soft enough to work. The hobo on which the ink stick is ground has a close grain helping to produce ink quickly and of the best quality in terms of color and luster. These inkstones are now being produced by 7 firms employing 15 people, 2 of whom are government recognized Master Craftsmen.

The Akama suzuri is characterized by a deep red brick color.  It is a hard stone which lends itself well to detailed carving. The Akama stone I own measures about 5 x 7.5 inches (12.5 x 20 cm), is quite heavy, and has a large area for grinding ink, and depressions on either side of it which lead to the well.  The carving is clean and crisp, as well as rather cleverly executed with the grapes hiding in the well itself.

Recalling the “breath test” of yesterday’s entry, I breathed on the grinding surface a couple of times.  It was absorbed very quickly when compared to the She stone.  This stone takes more effort to create ink than does the gourd-shaped stone, and perhaps this is the reason why.  When I tilt in the sun, there are few sparkles of pyrites, which are found in a good stone – there is something about pyrites and the ink stick interacting….  Anyhow, this is still a lovely stone, but admittedly, not my favorite for grinding ink.

There are some design elements in this stone which I really like. I like having a “moat” on either side of the grinding surface, as it allows me to create little areas of greyer tones once the darker ink is on the central plain. The plain itself has a shall indentation in the center, which rises a bit before curving steeply into the well beneath the grape leaves. This allows for a puddling of ink without it flowing into the well.

These next two pictures show the carving a bit more in detail, taken at different angles.

Finally, there is some writing on the back which I should get translated. You can see it on the reverse image at the top. These are the images, enlarged, from top to bottom.

This link will bring you to a page with a number of Akama inkstones, along with some rather hefty prices!  Click on each inkstone image to see it enlarge – here you will really see the art of the carved suzuri.

The Four Treasures: Inkstone / Suzuri, ii

June 21, 2009
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She Inkstones

I bought this stone with the understanding that it is a She inkstone, from Anhui in China.  The box, as you can see, is custom-made to the shape of the stone, which is carved into the shape of a gourd.  Measurements of the stone are about 8 x 3 inches (20 x 7.5 cm), with the inside of the well about 4 x 2.5 inches (10 x 6.3 cm).  This stone is smooth and hard, and easily grinds ink into very fine particles.  The back of the stone is a bit lopsided, so it wobbles when ink is being ground.  I solved this problem by placing a small piece of folded felt under the wobbly area.

According to Cao Jieming, vice manager of She Ink Stone Factory, She inkstones have some distinctive characteristics:

The She ink stone is hard but smooth, with a clear and dense texture. While touching it, it feels like the skin of a baby. Good She ink stones do not absorb water. On cold days, if you breathe on it, the water may form on the ink stone and it can be used to grind ink.

Other people make the same claim – that by breathing on an inkstone, if the moisture from your breath is quickly absorbed, the stone is too porous.  I tried this, and the moisture from my breath remained visible on the stone for over a minute.  When I wiped my finger across the area I breathed on, a small puddle of water appeared.

If you do a web search about She inkstones, you will learn a lot about them.  They are prized for the quality of the stone, as well as the minerals which are embedded into the stones.  These markings are given a variety of names, such as Gold Star, Small Water Wave, Fish Egg.  A skilled craftsman will work to bring out the beauty of these markings while making an excellent inkstone.

She inkstones vary in color, from green, to grey, to black.

My Gourd-Shaped Inkstone

My stone is a deep grey-black, and is quite hard.  There are swirls darker grey throughout the stone.  The upper part of this stone is carved into leaves, with the lower end containing the well representing a gourd.  (Or maybe a squash?)  The carving is very smooth and clean, as you can see from the picture, moving gracefully from the leaves into the gourd and well of the stone.

The stone is also very thin, measuring no more than 1/2 inch (1.25 cm) thick. When tapped, the stone gives a pleasant, metallic sound.

The reverse side of this stone shows some greenish streaks, as well as bits of gold color. Pyrites, if I remember correctly, are necessary in good inkstones. The image below is on the reverse of the stone, beneath the well. Notice the colors, spots, and striations in the stone.

This next image is from the reverse, upper part of the stone, beneath the carved leaves.

Even closer, you can see the stone’s characteristics.

For me, learning about the tools I use is important as it gives me a greater appreciation for it in so many ways: respect for the artisan and his/her skills, respect for the history of the tool, respect for the beauty within the tool itself. To care properly for the inkstone is to honor it, its history, and its place in my own creative endeavors.

The Four Treasures: Inkstone / Suzuri, i

June 20, 2009
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I am not an expert on inkstones. I own a few, most of which I have used, and some I like better than others. My most expensive is perhaps the best, although recently I acquired one which I have still not tried. A cheap inkstone is simply a cheap inkstone, and worthless. An inexpensive inkstone is not cheap, just a bargain, and a pleasure to use!

A Little History of the Inkstone

In the “kanji countries” – that is, eastern Asian countries with a tradition of brush and ink as writing implements – inkstones were developed to grind ink sticks. If you think of sandpaper, you will understand the underlying principle of the inkstone, which is to grind away the ink into fine particles which are dissolved in water. The finer the grit of the sandpaper, the finer the grit of the ground ink. A poor inkstone will not do the job it is intended to do. A fine inkstone may be ruined by a poor ink stick, so taking care to choose high quality stone and ink is important to the artist and calligrapher.

According to various websites, there is archeological evidence of inkstone usage in China as far back as 5000 years. In Japan, the arrival of the inkstone – the suzuri – came later, as Chinese and Japanese cultures made contact. Inkstones have been excavated in Japan which date to the 8th century, and 1998 at the Tawayama site in Matsue, Shimane Prefecture, the finding of the Chinese inkstone parts suggests articles related to writing were introduced to Japan via the Korean Peninsula much earlier than previously thought – about 100 A.D.  Inkstones are usually made of stone, but have also been made of ceramic, tile, clay, porcelain, jade, iron, copper, silver, wood, lacquer, and bamboo.

There are many areas throughout China, Japan and Korea noted for the quality of stone for inkstones. A good inkstone will quickly grind ink into very fine particles, will not absorb the water used to grind the ink, and not harm the brush. The mineral content and character of the inkstone influences the fineness of ink particles, as well as the blackness of the ink.

Two Chinese stones I have and used include the Duan and She stones from China. Duan (Chinese: duanshi. Japanese: tankei) is a volcanic stone, or tuff. The colors range from reddish to purple. The She stone is from China (Japanese: kyu), and is a form of slate. Both stones may have markings throughout, which are considered to increase the value and beauty of the stone.

In Japan, according to a contact, there are no more mines today which are capable of producing good inkstones, and the best stones are imported from China and carved by Japanese artisans. Nonetheless, in Japan, there Akama and Ogatsu inkstones. The Akama stone is reddish in color, with a hard, fine grain. The Ogatsu stone is black, and allows for detail in carving. It, too, is a hard stone with a fine grain. I have both Akama and Ogatsu stones.

Parts of the Inkstone

An inkstone is not just a practical tool, but a work of art in itself, whether simple and functional, or richly carved. Generally speaking, an inkstone will have a large, flat area for the ink, and a slope leading to a well for water. A small amount of water is placed in the well, and using the bottom of the ink stick, water is pulled onto the flat surface where the grinding of ink occurs. I often will sprinkle a bit of water onto the flat surface of the stone, begin the grinding of the ink, and pull more water up as needed. A stone with a large flat surface can help the artist localize different shades of grey, and the well may be used to dilute ink already on the brush to lighten it. This link will show you the general structure of an inkstone.

A Duan Inkstone

This stone measures approximately 3 x 5 inches (7.5 x 12.5 cm) on the inside.  When tapped, it has a nice, crisp sound.  The case is made of rosewood, and well constructed.

Not all inkstones have boxes or lids, and unless you use your stone frequently, it would be easy to let the ink dry out in the stone if you covered it and forgot about it.

This stone cost about $40.00 around 2000. Ink is easily made using this stone, and has a pleasant consistency. As it is a small stone, ink needs to be replenished on a regular basis. The size also makes it convenient to take to class, or to use outdoors, as it is neither heavy nor bulky. This is a great everyday stone for the the artist looking to explore ink painting and calligraphy. It is a quality stone without a high price, and a good ink stick (not a student grade ink stick) will produce thick, rich ink.

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